I believe, when done right with a little luck/good timing thrown in, portfolio reviews can be very beneficial to photographers. I joined the Board of Directors at the non-profit Center in Santa Fe (full disclosure) over a year ago and have really enjoyed getting to know the people behind it and the inner workings of the portfolio review they put on called, Review Santa Fe. I took the opportunity of their annual call for entries to interview the Executive Director, Laura Pressley. She brings together a very high level group of Gallerists, Curators, Photo Editors, Book Publisher and Photographers annually for the event, which is no easy task. What’s always impressed me more is her ability to network, forge relationships and engage a group of people who have zero time for anything extra. Ask any additional questions you have in the comments.
Give me a little bit of your background and how you got started working with CENTER?
I’m from Chicago, received a BFA from the College of Santa Fe. After I graduated, I moved to the San Francisco area and worked at the Richmond Art Center where I witnessed the transformative effects of public art and community based art projects on families and cities. I felt myself align with the ethos of art service organizations and the public sector.
When I came back to New Mexico in 2000, I got involved with PhotoArts Santa Fe, a city-wide celebration of the medium. Through the event, I met the Director of the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts (our old moniker) and was later recruited to be their Programs Coordinator after their success of the first Review Santa Fe. I have been here ever since. The name of the organization and the programming keep evolving, but the organization has maintained a sincere purpose and campfire quality that has been there since the beginning.
You are in the middle of your call for entries, tell me about the programs you have this year?
Yes! The call for entries (http://www.visitcenter.org/callforentries) is targeted to photographers who are looking for support and exposure opportunities. The award recipients receive a professional development package including online and traditional exhibiting platforms. This is not a “contest” but rather an opportunity to work with an art service organization in expanding your reach.
PROJECT LAUNCH (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/project_launch_2014) is a grant for documentary, journalistic or fine art projects with a $5,000 cash award, two exhibitions with one during Review Santa Fe and the other at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center later in the year, also publication in Lenscratch, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. The Selection Committee is Fred & Laura Ruth Bidwell, Bidwell Projects & Transformer Station; Roger Watson, Curator, Fox Talbot Museum; and Patrick Witty, International Picture Editor, TIME magazine. Deadline: January 22, 2014
PROJECT DEVELOPMENT (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/project_development_grant_2014) is a grant for works-in-progress for documentary, journalistic or fine art projects with a $5,000 cash award, two exhibitions with one during Review Santa Fe and the other at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center later in the year, also publication in Lenscratch, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. Juror: Lisa Hostetler, Curator, George Eastman House, formerly Curator at the Smithsonian Museum. Deadline: March 12, 2014
THE CHOICE AWARDS (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/choice_awards_2014) are in three categories Curator’s, Editor’s or Gallerist’s Choice and you can choose to enter 1, 2, or 3 of the categories for your work. The recipients are featured in the Award winners exhibition at Center for Contemporary Arts during Review Santa Fe. They also receive complimentary participation in Review Santa Fe, Lenscratch publication, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. The jurors are Curator’s Choice – Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX formerly Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Editor’s Choice – Cheryl Newman, Director of Photography, The Telegraph, England; and Gallerist’s Choice – Steffi Schulze, Gallery Management, Camera Work, Germany.
REVIEW SANTA FE (http://www.visitcenter.org/reviews/overview/review_santa_fe_2014) is a juried portfolio review event and conference scheduled for June 26-29, 2014 in Santa Fe, NM. Review Santa Fe is designed for photographers to get their work seen by those that can help them achieve maximum impact. Scholarships and payment plans are available for photographers upon acceptance. Deadline: January 22, 2014
I see portfolio reviews popping up all over the place, tell me what separates Review Santa Fe from the rest of what’s out there for photographers to attend?
Review Santa Fe has changed the course of many photographers careers with dozens of actual outcomes every year. The juried component elevates the experience for all involved as it attracts not only committed photographers but also reviewers from high distributions magazines and high profile museums who don’t go to other reviews. The reviewers talk amongst each other giving CENTER’s reviews high marks. Many have stated that it is the best review they ever attended.
I just sent out our e-news yesterday with part of a testimonial from Alec Soth, here is the whole thing (from 2005): “A few years ago I felt stuck. I’d completed a project and received some attention in my hometown but I had no idea how to get the work out nationally. Out of the blue I was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize. The award and the attention were terrific, but the real prize was the review experience. The exposure to prestigious professionals and fantastic fellow photographers gave me access to an invaluable national network. It didn’t take long for this experience to reap huge rewards. Within a year of my experience at Review Santa Fe, I had a solo exhibition in New York, a book contract and was invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial.”
I do a lot of the research on who is using photography well and paying. Our reputation and our alumni have allowed me to cultivate key relationship with those picture professionals. At Review Santa Fe, you may have opportunity to meet with someone who can add your work to our nation’s archive in the Library of Congress. In one day it’s very possible you could meet with decision-makers from The Library of Congress, the Whitney, the Getty, TIME magazine, The New Yorker and many others who are looking for content. So, there’s fertile ground at Review Santa Fe that attracts not only some of the best reviewers and photographers.
Our alumni list is hot, hot, hot with editorial and fine art photographers – Alec Soth, Chris Jordan, Julie Blackmon, Hank Willis Thomas, Brian Ulrich, Tamas Dezso, Cristina de Middel, Carolyn Drake and Ben Lowy…the list goes on and on.
If I’m a photographer thinking about going to a portfolio review tell me how should I evaluate what’s available and how do I know I’m ready for one?
Regional reviews at your local photo art centers are great for getting feedback on a work-in-progress. It’s actually quite nice for reviewers to know that there is no expectation and allows for a really authentic and engaging conversation that can lead to insights and next steps. The more national and international reviews, you are ready when you have a cohesive body of work within a polished presentation that may be relevant to a broader audience. It doesn’t have to be fully completed but having a resolved concept and direction and being able to communicate clearly what the work is about is important.
In terms of criteria, I would evaluate the organizations track record and, if you can, ask a reviewer to speak candidly about their experience at an event. The most important thing are the reviewers attending. Ask yourself, are there reviewers on the roster that you want to meet? If so, are they accessible in other ways? You want to try to use that opportunity to meet with people you could not otherwise.
Also, many of us are becoming conscious consumers. There is a critical difference in the priorities of a non-profit art service organizations and other types of businesses. We are accountable to all of our attendees, as well as donors, the city, the state and sometimes the federal government. I have a responsibility to have actual outcomes in my programs and for our attendees to have worthwhile experiences. I would look to see if the program is aligned with a mission-based organization as that instills a level of trust and mutual investment. Essentially, non-profit organizations are for photographers, not for profit. On that note, another important question: are there scholarships or payment plans?
What advice can you give specifically with regards to Review Santa Fe?
– When in doubt submit the edgier series.
– Bring two or more projects with you to the event.
– Submit fewer images, and the tighter edit (you will be judged by your weakest, not your strongest image).
– Pay attention to your sequencing, make it like an album. When it doubt, have a strong #1, #4, and other signature pieces sprinkled evenly throughout the series. End strong.
– In your reviews, realize that you, as storyteller, are as important as the work, in building key relationships. In other words, your bedside manner is very important.
What can people expect to get out of the event? I heard from someone who had great reviews last year but they were frustrated because 3 months later nobody had responded to any of the follow up including yourself. Then in another 3 months a big magazine is publishing a portfolio of their work, so they are relieved obviously, but there was a long period where they were not happy about the time and money spent on attending and the lack of response afterwards. I know it can feel real chummy at the event, but then everyone goes back to work and reality. Can you comment on that?
Given the work is strong, it all comes down to patience. There is a lot of content needed these days for hungry image consumers. I tell a story during Review Santa Fe orientation about a three time alumni who showed her black and white images of bumblebees back in 2006. It didn’t get published until 2010 from a publisher she met at the event. That was when bees were on everyone’s radar because they were disappearing and made the news. Sometimes the reviewer is waiting for the right moment, when the audience is ripe. Editors are managing a bunch of assignments and don’t have time to take a moment to tell you that the timing isn’t right yet.
In terms of my experience, which is also reflective of some reviewers, emails that are non-urgent may wait a season or longer to be addressed. I know it’s almost absurd, that amount of time. The thing is that I love talking to photographers and this particular one, I eventually communicated when I was able to properly engage with her. If I just wrote back “be patient” and explained editors and others heavy work loads, would that have helped any? That discussion needed to be within a context of a sincere conversation that is specific to each individual at a particular moment in the life of their projects and careers.
I see that photographers get discouraged and that’s hard especially when some of their fellow reviewees seemingly get recognition right away. This year within several weeks of the event, we had two photographers on the Wired blog, one on the Smithsonian blog, two others on the New York Times Lens Blog, and a gallery exhibition. The thing is that you don’t know how long each individual has been working on their projects prior to that recognition, and how many times they tried to get the work out prior to the event, if they have an established connection to the reviewer and perhaps Review Santa Fe was that impetus to finally show the work. Each story is different.
But absolutely stay in touch. What prompted me to finally write back was that particular photographer’s holiday card made me laugh. Please keep in mind that once you put the work out there it is not on your time frames or your needs anymore – it is on the magazine, the gallery, the business, or the organization’s schedule. Since they are the ones you are hoping to work with you have to trust their judgement and trust that they are savvy business people who know when the moment is right.
What you can expect is to get your work in front of people who have the power to distribute it to a broad audience. You can expect to be around a group of people all working at a high level and who are dialed into the field. You can expect to make friends you may have for years. You can expect reviewers to be mutually invested in looking at new work. You can expect that although they may not write back in a timely fashion, they will remember your work and reach out when the time is right.
CENTER is celebrating its 20th anniversary, do you have anything special planned?
Sure do. It includes expansion into the central downtown Santa Fe outdoor venue location (the Railyard) and projections of the 2014 photographers works during the simultaneous international multi-media festival called Currents. This parallel festival has a series of programs and installations happening along with evening events with DJs and projections that our participants and encouraged to attend. Its all right down the street from our new location, the Hotel Santa Fe. We are also hosting a Saturday night Fundraising Gala with the Center for Contemporary Arts who are celebrating their 35th anniversary and the Santa Fe Workshops attendees are also invited to the gala as they are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.
Plus, the 100 participating photographers will be invited to give artists presentations scheduled throughout the weekend at the Center for Contemporary Arts. We will have two of our high profile alumni – Julie Blackmon and Phil Toledano – to give evening presentations. There’s more planned but basically its going to be non-stop forward momentum infused with some fun.